France: Management plan for the astian aquifer (#20)

Astien groundwater aquifer has been subjected to over-use due to good water quality and over-extraction. To address this, SMETA, a syndicate of local authorities, was established to organise the management of the aquifer. Key lesson learnt is that an organisation like SMETA can prove to be a successful forum for groundwater protection. 


Astien groundwater forms part of a confined aquifer which plays an essential role in the economic development of the Béziers region (180,000 inhabitants, which increases to 300,000 in the tourist season). 75% of the groundwater abstracted is used for drinking water. Half of this is consumed between June and August due to the tourist population. 

Economic activity in the region is carried out in geographically distinct areas, with tourism in the littoral area and agriculture on the plain. 

A combination of factors led to the uncontrolled development of the groundwater, namely: 
- The groundwater is artesian; 
- The quality of the pumped water is good and 
- The abstraction rate in many boreholes is more than 100 m³/h. 
- At one stage, there were more than 600 boreholes in operation.

Consequently, the future of this aquifer was endangered, with water quality affected by saline intrusion, a direct result of over-abstraction. 

Action taken

In 1990, SMETA (a mixed syndicate of local authorities) was established to organise the management of the aquifer. It involves wide stakeholder representation. The case is an example of an Integrated Water Resource Management approach in a littoral area which involves the public authorities (State and Water Agency), local authorities and users. Through the SMETA structure, the stakeholders defined a harmonised management plan for the aquifer.

Lessons learned

The SMETA organisation proved successful in protecting the aquifer. However, it failed to take into account the effect of small wells, which continue to be sunk and which threaten the quality of the aquifer, and the private property structure, which makes it difficult to control private wells.

Importance of the case for IWRM

Good example of a groundwater management contract (16 million Francs) between the Water Agency and the local authorities, which defined the management rules between the State and the stakeholders 

The case also illustrates some of the difficulties in developing sustainable programmes for integrated resource management. 

Photo credit: Roger Davies